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Carbon capture and sequestration is the only way to make coal-fired power environmentally responsible, and yet we’re so far from getting there. Last week’s decision by utility AEP to cancel its plans to continue with the country’s first commercial-scale project to capture carbon from a working coal power plant gives an indication of just how little economic pressure exists on the utility industry to change its ways. AEP tells the world that without federal carbon legislation, it just can’t justify the project’s investment. Given how challenging it is just to capture coal smokestack carbon and pump it underground, perhaps there’s little surprise that actually doing something useful with captured carbon will be even further down the road. So says a report out from the UK-based Center for Low Carbon Futures, which finds that feeding captured carbon to algae or other plants for conversion into biofuel, or pumping it into alternative systems for manufacturing cement, plastics or other materials, will require many years of testing and refinement to reach commercial viability. Will the world’s carbon emitters and their regulators be willing to spend the time and money to make these lines of business worthwhile to investors?

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